An honor for Elizabeth’s grandfather

When Elizabeth (’58) and Charles Seaver decided to endow a scholarship in her grandfather’s memory, it was to honor a man Elizabeth loved and admired. It was also a way to keep alive the memory of a man whose impact on Madison began on the opening day of classes in 1909 and continues today. Earlier this fall, I sat down with the Seavers to learn more about the man described by many as “the historian of the Shenandoah Valley.”

A grandfather’s legacy

L-R: Katrina Seaver ('17), Charles Seaver, President Alger, Elizabeth Seaver ('56), Jacqueline Herrick ('17). In addition to hosting the game, President Alger inducted Elizabeth into the Bluestone Society during the game.

L-R: Katrina Seaver (’17), Charles Seaver, President Alger, Elizabeth Seaver (’56), Jacqueline Herrick (’17). In addition to hosting the game, President Alger inducted Elizabeth into the Bluestone Society during the game.

It’s a beautiful, crisp, blue-sky Sunday morning in September. Campus is quiet and sleepy — just waking after Saturday’s football victory. Elizabeth (’58) and Charles Seaver, guests of President and Mrs. Alger, had watched the game with their granddaughters, Jacqueline Herrick (’17) and Katrina Seaver (’17).

For Elizabeth, visiting with her granddaughters must have felt a bit like déjà vu. While she was a student, studying toward a degree in mathematics, Elizabeth often walked the few blocks off campus to Weaver Avenue to visit with her own grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. John W. Wayland.

Dr. Wayland had been a member of the first faculty of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg and a significant player among the intrepid scholars who created the blueprint for what became Elizabeth’s Madison College — and eventually become James Madison University.

Although Dr. Wayland had retired by the time Elizabeth enrolled at Madison College, he was an inspiring and welcoming figure to her.

“I would go visit. Sometimes I’d take a friend,” Elizabeth remembers. “He had a little book of unbound poetry….He would give one to my friends. I’d ask him to autograph it.”

Elizabeth remembers her grandfather as a modest man, who was highly disciplined and dedicated to his work. He was humble and “very down to earth,” she says. “I enjoyed being around him. You’d never have known he had done all that he had done.”

By the time Elizabeth visited him on Weaver Ave., Dr. Wayland was renowned throughout the valley. In fact, he was widely regarded as the historian of the Shenandoah Valley. Today, up and down the valley, his name and the impact of his scholarship are still visible. A highway, an elementary school, a building on JMU’s campus all bear his name.

An accomplished man

Dr. John W. Wayland, circa 1909

Dr. John W. Wayland, circa 1909

Elizabeth’s grandfather — and Katrina and Jacqueline’s great, great grandfather — was born near Mt. Jackson in 1872. He was the son of an accomplished cabinetmaker and a teacher, who educated their youngest son at home until he was 8 years old. It must have been a rich season of learning. John and his parents embarked on cross-country trip that — before the advent of the automobile — took them a full year. Many years later, as an adult, Dr. Wayland would travel widely throughout Europe.

Once he enrolled in school, John Wayland’s life of scholarship and teaching began. At age 18, he taught in a small log school on the western slope of the Massanutten Mountain, beginning a period of 17 years during which he interspersed teaching with his own education. He earned a bachelor of arts from Bridgewater College, taught at a boys’ school in Charlottesville and Bridgewater College, and he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, teaching there briefly as well.

As a doctoral student, he embraced life with enthusiasm — the same kind of enthusiasm he later brought to Harrisonburg. He was a charter member of the University of Virginia’s Raven Society, editor of the Raven Book, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Washington Debating Society. It has been said, one biographer wrote, that he received nearly every academic honor given at the university.

In 1909, he joined the faculty of the brand new school in Harrisonburg — a place with unparalleled opportunities to shape the future.

A new school to build

One need only read Dr. Raymond Dingledine’s history of Madison College* to catch a glimpse of the excitement with which the first faculty embraced the mission of building a school from the ground up. Not surprisingly, it was a season of firsts, and John Wayland was right in the mix.

As a member of that first faculty, he was the first history professor, the first secretary of the faculty, the first to offer a prayer at the first assembly, the first to lead hikes up the Massanutten Mountain, father of the first faculty children — and the first faculty member to own an automobile (a Ford touring car). He drove the first editorial staff of the first Breeze to Mt. Jackson to collect the first copies of the first student-run newspaper.

Dr. Wayland was also instrumental in shaping policies and precedents, working closely with President Julian Burruss. The two 30-somethings and a close-knit faculty carefully considered each step they took — always with an eye on the future and the great responsibility their opportunity presented.

According to Dr. Dingledine (who knew Dr. Wayland and sought him out when he wrote his book), he was “a brilliant young historian,” who was also much loved by his students and his colleagues. It was John Wayland who supported students when they asked for some degree of self-governance, a cornerstone of Madison that remains strong today.

Wayland Hall, built in the 1950s and named for Dr. Wayland, underwent a major renovation in 2010. Today Wayland Hall houses a community of students pursuing the arts.

Wayland Hall, built in the 1950s and named for Dr. Wayland, underwent a major renovation in 2010. Today Wayland Hall houses a community of students pursuing the arts.

Despite his towering intellect and the gravitas of the first faculty’s task to build the new school, Dr. Wayland was not above being — in the vernacular of the day — a “sport.” He was a ready vocalist, often twanging a tuning fork to grab the correct pitch before singing a lesson. He won a Halloween show one year by singing his own biscuit recipe to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” He wrote the first Madison alma mater, “Blue Stone Hill.” He also wrote a song for the Commonwealth that was submitted for the last competition for a state song. And when the whole world celebrated Shakespeare in 1916, Dr. Wayland donned a period costume and joined a parade through the streets of Harrisonburg.

A renaissance man

All this squares with Elizabeth Seaver’s memories of her grandfather. “He didn’t seem interested in materials things,” she says. “His whole life was dedicated to his work, but as intensely as he worked, he always had time for me when I wanted to visit.”

“He was a tall, rawboned man,” remembers Charles, then a Virginia Tech student, who met Dr. Wayland when he began dating Elizabeth. “He impressed me.”

Even when Dr. Wayland retired from teaching in 1939, he continued to study and write.

He was “a renaissance man,” Charles says, marveling at the extent of his knowledge. “…. He was involved in everything — to do that before the age of computers!”

His interests and writings covered a remarkable breadth: art, music, geneology, biography, history, songwriting, poetry, pedagogy, religion, ethics and citizenship, world history, travel, military campaigns, gardening, and American presidents.

Katrina Seaver ('17) grabbed a selfie with President Alger

Katrina Seaver (’17) grabbed a selfie with President Alger

He had two interesting hobbies. He made canes out of wood he collected from historic places, and he collected nicknames. He had a list of thousands.

In a lifetime of work that spanned half of the 20th Century, John Wayland authored 40 books, compiled 21 volumes of personal diaries that he called “every-day books” and helped found the Rockingham Historical Society. He was among those instrumental in founding a memorial at Germanna to honor the first people to settle there during Virginia’s colonial period.

All that — plus inspiring hundreds of students.

To everyone who knew Dr. Wayland, he was a consummate gentleman, a definition he not only lived but wrote. When the Baltimore Sun conducted a contest in 1899 to define a “true gentlemen,” Dr. Wayland’s entry was so strong there was virtually no competition at all. He won. His definition has been published widely and even today, more than a century later, his words still hold sway.

Amazing as his career and impact was, though, to Elizabeth Seaver, Dr. John W. Wayland was a kind grandfather who once gave her a small box of chocolate covered cherries and loaned her a card table that served as her desk for a semester. He also gave his granddaughter a legacy of life and learning and that she now passes on to her own granddaughters.

And through the gift of the Seavers’ generous Wayland Scholarship, Elizabeth’s grandfather’s legacy of scholarship will impact Madison students for generations to come.


*Madison College, The First Fifty Years, 1908-1958, Dr. Raymond C. Dingledine, Jr.

Change to the Nth degree

On the op/ed page of a recent Daily News-Record, two letters to the editor criticized JMU and its impact on Harrisonburg. It’s a tiresome complaint. Plenty of naysayers dislike the fact that JMU is a big presence in Harrisonburg. And it always gets me steamed. I’ve started writing posts about this before, but this morning as I thought about it, I realized there is one impact that Madison has on the area that no one can disparage.

I could mention, of course, the revenue and jobs generated by JMU in the community. It is very substantial. In 2009, the number was somewhere around $442 million. JMU is also one of the area’s largest job creators, not only as a direct employer but through ancillary services created as a result of the university’s presence. I could also mention the many arts and sports programs that provide a dizzying array of theater, dance, recitals, art shows, concerts, games and opportunities for culture, entertainment and sport. I could point out the hundreds of thousands of hours contributed by faculty, staff and students to community organizations and outreaches. All by itself, I could cite the dream of the late Vida Huber and the influence of her Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services. I could list the many graduates who have stayed in the area to establish new businesses, bringing yet more jobs to Harrisonburg. And then there are JMU’s facilities that host community concerts, swim meets, high-school graduations, home and garden shows, fundraising banquets and many more.

One impact, however, dwarfs the rest. And that is the impact JMU has on the community’s children through generation after generation after generation of talented educators.

What brought me to this conclusion was a random thought this morning about the late Robert Saum (’60,’68M). Mr. Saum was my chemistry and molecular biology teacher at Harrisonburg High School. Anyone who sat in his classroom will remember his over-the-top enthusiasm for science and students. He was one of the best teachers I ever had. Decades later, I can still tell you about the innards of a cat and how chemical compounds work together. I also learned many principles about life and learning. As a student who leaned heavily toward the arts, English and social sciences, I was no chemistry whiz. In fact, in Mr. Saum’s class, I repeated one experiment 10 times before I got it right. From that victory on, Mr. Saum always called me the “KCLO3 Kid.” I wore my nickname as a badge of honor — and pocketed a wonderful lesson in perseverance.

But as talented and committed as Mr. Saum was, he was not the only great Madison teacher who taught me. He was one of many. As I thought about Mr. Saum and the most influential teachers in my life, I realized that the majority were graduates of Madison. For me — and my own three Dukes — the list of influential Madison teachers is very, very, very long: Angela Reeke, Charles “Bill” Blair, Jackie Driver, Keith Holland, Robert Saum, Sue Haley, Henry Buhl, Katherine Seig, Linda and Bob Failes, Garney Darrin, Elizabeth Neatrour, Nancy Mast, Ginger Alliotti, Joyce Jellum, Phillip Heap, Judy Warren, Nancy Stewart, Brooks Marshall, Daphyne Thomas, Harold Logan, Elias Semaan, Anna Lyons Sullivan, C.B. Dix, Bob Scott, Mac Long …… I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

While I was also not a math whiz (despite the best efforts of Anna Lyons Sullivan and Harold Logan) I do remember the principle of exponentials — and that’s what Mr. Saum, Mr. Buhl, Miss Sullivan and Mrs. Stewart represent. One teacher’s influence on a single student can be stunning.  But teachers times students times classes times schools times years times decades. That is astonishing influence.  If you stop to think about it, few institutions impact communities with change that is deeper, wider or more important than schools — and that changes communities, Harrisonburg included. Henry Brook Adams wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

That’s change to the Nth degree.

Anyone who sat in Mr. Saum’s chemistry class at Harrisonburg High School knows the kind of teacher I am talking about. Everyone who learned from one of the thousands of Madison teachers who fanned out all over the city, the county and the state has their own list of teachers. Great teachers change students’ lives. Mine certainly did.

Years ago, I went to see one of them, one who truly changed my life. Katherine Sieg. I told her how much she had meant in my life. Miss Sieg is no longer with us, as Mr. Saum is no longer here, but I thanked them both, and I am glad I did.

So when I hear someone talking about JMU in a less than complimentary way, I ask, “Who was your child’s favorite teacher?”

That usually does the trick.

Read more about JMU’s College of Education here:
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